A Guide to Dry January

Published: January 2, 2024 by Zencare Team

January is a time of fresh starts, New Year’s resolutions and intentions. With the change of the year and after months of holiday festivities, many people decide they want to participate in Dry January. But what exactly is the meaning behind Dry January and why is it so popular? What are Dry January benefits and how can a therapist help?

We’ve put together a guide to Dry January so you can decide if it’s something that you might be interested in. We’re also talking about what it means to be sober curious and offering some tips and recipes for Dry January drinks.

Close up of a bartender making a drink.

What is Dry January?

Dry January, which is a trademarked annual campaign that started over ten years ago out of the UK, describes a person’s intentional abstinence from alcohol for the month of January. This includes wine, beer, spirits, liqueurs, seltzers, and any other alcoholic beverage. Dry January has gained a lot of interest over the past several years as population drinking rates are on the rise.

While the general goal of Dry January is to abstain from alcohol for the month of January, there are many variations that can be worthwhile for many people who aren’t able or willing to stop drinking for a whole month. These variations include abstaining from a certain type of alcohol like beer, not drinking during the week and only on weekends, or reducing alcohol intake for the month.

What are the benefits of Dry January?

There are many Dry January benefits, with many people having expressed that taking time off of alcohol led to both health and mental health benefits. Many people enjoy drinking, as it can help them feel relaxed. However, alcohol can have significant impacts on the body. There are many physical outcomes that occur because of drinking, which could be either reversed or avoided with Dry January by creating a lull in typical drinking behavior. These physical benefits from participating in Dry January include:

On top of these physical Dry January benefits, Dry January is a time that many people find helpful to reflect on their relationship with drinking. They might find that without alcohol, their relationships improve or they have more time to spend doing their hobbies. Even if they don’t intend on cutting out alcohol permanently in their lives, a small respite at the start of the year could be just the jumpstart they need to instill some healthier habits.

What are the criticisms of Dry January?

Dry January has been criticized, like other wellness campaigns or “health programs”, for not being a sustainable practice, for not being done for the right reasons, or that it perpetuates a particular message around alcohol. There are several criticisms of Dry January, which includes:

Lastly, Dry January is not for everyone. For those who have a dependency on alcohol, they might find it extremely difficult to completely cut drinking behavior on the first day of the year. In serious cases, people who participate in Dry January after long-term drinking patterns might find themselves facing withdrawal, which can be a dangerous health condition requiring medical treatment. If someone who might go into withdrawal wants to participate in Dry January, it could be beneficial for them to do so with support from their doctor.

What is sobriety?

Sobriety means living a life that is free from alcohol and drinking. Dry January takes on several aspects of this concept. Sobriety is commonly found in many different cultures and religions, and is often connected with people who face challenges with their alcohol intake. Some people may engage in sobriety out of personal preference such as not liking how alcohol influences their mental health, or because of a past traumatic experience that involved alcohol.

Others extend the term “sobriety” to include drugs like marijuana, stimulants, or other substances not being used for medical purposes. Many people find the concept of sobriety interesting and want to give it a try, which leads to the term “sober curious.”

What does sober curious mean?

When someone is sober curious, it means that they’re exploring what it could look like for them to engage in sobriety and to cut back on drinking. It means that instead of going along with regular drinking patterns, such as going to a bar with friends or ordering a glass of wine with dinner, they consider alternatives. Whether they choose those alternatives or not, being sober curious is a mindset that states that an individual ultimately gets to decide whether they drink or not in a mindful and intentional way.

Dry January is a prime example of sober curiosity, as it offers its participants the opportunity to try sobriety for a set period of time. During Dry January, someone who is sober curious might choose social activities that they normally wouldn’t because there’s no longer any pressure or expectation to drink.

Tips for Dry January

If you’re interested in participating in Dry January, here are some tips to consider:

Lastly, if you do find yourself drinking during Dry January, it’s okay — you can start fresh again the next day. The point of Dry January isn’t to place an unrelenting amount of pressure on yourself to finish the month out perfectly, it’s to raise awareness of alcohol’s role in your life. However your days or weeks go during Dry January, your experience can offer insight into your relationship with alcohol and if there are any changes you want to make for the rest of the year. And if not, that’s okay too!

Drinks for Dry January

If you’re not sure where to start, and you want to prepare yourself for the next friend gathering or dinner out, try looking into some simple but yummy mocktails you can make at home or easily order at a bar. Here are some of our favorite recipes for mocktails:

There are also plenty of non-alcoholic brands out there that offer a variety of beverage types from mocktails, probiotic sodas to NA versions of wines, beers and ciders. A little exploration and you could discover your next favorite drink!

How a therapist can help

People are often surprised by what they find out about themselves when they stop drinking, even for a short period of time. Those engaging in Dry January, sobriety, and sober curiosity could benefit from the support of a mental health professional. A therapist can help individuals learn what role alcohol plays in their lives and what patterns they may have when it comes to drinking. Therapists can also support clients through understanding how society, even friend groups, lead to beliefs or assumptions about alcohol — an example being the judgment that people may face when they decide to stop drinking.

For those who are engaging in sobriety or exploring sobriety, it can be a journey. Having a therapist to talk to can be a helpful support system when there are questions or difficult emotions that arise. If someone wants to find ways to decrease their alcohol intake but has challenges doing so, a therapist can guide them through boundaries and treatment options for alcohol dependency. The Zencare therapist directory is an easy way to find a therapist that fits your needs and goals, like understanding your relationship with drinking.

Participating in Dry January doesn’t need to be a comment on someone’s character. It doesn’t need to mean that someone drinks too much the other months of the year, and it doesn’t have to influence the amount of social connection that someone feels with their loved ones. Dry January is a way to bring intentionality into the picture early on in the year. While many people find that not drinking brings more stability and peace into their lives, others find that not drinking is a form of self-care as they give their bodies a rest and as they focus their attention elsewhere.